Setting priorities for the Church - some reflections

Our starting point is our parish vision statement. We seek to:

  • Worship the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit
  • Teach the bible
  • Grow people in faith, love and understanding
  • Equip people to serve
  • Introduce people to Jesus so they can meet him and discover forgiveness and eternal life

1. Centrality of worship and prayer

So many things we could be/are doing: music, tourists, fabric, community work - but the priority is worship: worship of the God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The key: those times when we meet together to worship: to praise God (in music or words), to seek him and to receive from him (in word and sacrament)

My deep desire is that for every person in our churches, coming to our churches, worship and prayer would be the most central thing in our life.
The priority which shapes everything else.

So even though evangelism and social work come very high up my list of priorities, worship is more important for me. Mission and service flow out of worship; real worshipers become natural faith-sharers and servants. [2 Cor 8:5, 'First they gave themselves to the Lord and then they gave themselves to us']

So Sunday services, midweek services, staff prayers, the parish prayer meeting are central.

We seek to make our times of worship together

  • God focussed and God honouring: it is about Him and not about us.
  • Faithful to what we have received - from the historic Church (scriptures and the creed), the Church of England and from our own evangelical tradition (although I keep trying to include elements from the Orthodox tradition!)
  • An opportunity where people can meet with God that is different to everyday life; offering space to go beyond ourself and the immediate, to be and pray; a place where we can learn to receive from God.
  • Relevant to the people who are meeting together. People are not going to make radical jumps that make them feel uncomfortable or out of place. So each of our services have a different feel (BCP, informal, traditional, youth services)
  • Transforming. Each service should take us on a journey - from rebellion to obedience and love; from self reliance to dependence on God; from self justification to resting in the forgiveness and love of God; from being crushed by the mundane to praise of the transcendent God;
  • A mould for the daily life.

We have seen growth in our services [numbers do matter - because it is about people meeting together to honour the Lord Jesus Christ. Having said that, numbers should not be our success criteria. A truly faithful church may well not grow numerically. There may well be times of pruning.]

The most encouraging area of growth has been the growth of the 9:30 service from about 30 to currently over 110.

Why? I have no idea! [BBC programme 'Orbit'. Reporter was saying that you need 3 cycles to be in the right place to get an ice age!]

  • We are an urban centre (so have greater resources than those in rural areas)
  • We clarified the focus of the service - from being 'for' children to being 'for' families. (Helped by Warren's 'Purpose driven church')
  • Faithful people: praying and serving.
  • Community that is outward looking (hospitality, coffee in town after the service).
  • A building that is big and cold, but which is also easy and safe to come into.
  • A freedom to experiment (within safe limits) - something new
  • Use of technology - so that people feel that this is something that is moving and changing
  • Consistent regular leadership - people know what they expect to get.

2. Working with what we have

Artists sculpting look at the material and try to see what it is showing. 'Looking at the angel that is trying to get out'.
Carpenter: works with the grain

1. People: what are our skills, interests, desires, dreams, visions (eg. little church promoting the big journey)?
Allow people to have their head. For me, part of leadership is about seeing gifts in others and encouraging people to use them - and also helping it all slot together: image of leadership - captain on a ship.

2. Community: what are the traditions and strengths of the area in which we serve?
Traditions of the area: Bury St Edmunds - conservative; traditional church still works here among many people; weddings, baptisms (thanksgivings) and funerals.
Traditions of the churches: theological, musical, liturgical
Of course some of those traditions are not currently helpful. For SM, the fact that we were trying to pretend to be the cathedral was not helpful.

3. What openings are there? We often struggle to get people to come into the churches, but schools and residential homes are often asking us to go into them. Other opportunities: civic services, Christmas, occasional offices, tourists. Work with those openings and shape them.
Illustration of church putting major resources into 'outreach' teams and seeing little fruit, but having significant numbers of newcomers coming through the door. Should they put resources into welcoming new people?
Sometimes openings come in the shape of problems: eg. St Mary's Hadleigh porch project

4. Buildings: people love their church building. They can help and hinder.
SM - beloved by people in the town. Visitors [sought to increase visitor numbers] and concerts. We now have a gospel display, and a place where people can pray.
SP - beloved by the people who worship there. Made it more flexible: LIFE exhibition; holiday club. But it is off the beaten track and closed during the week.
Hyndman Centre (a community centre) - massive resource for mission. If 12000 visit SM each year, 30000 go to some event in the Hyndman Centre. People who came to recent evangelistic talk (3 out of the the 4 of them) came because of contacts through the Centre. But we are not making enough of it: my wish to put in a community worker

We begin to do what we can where we are with what we have got.

In this business, you do need to do a bit of sailing. See where the wind is going and go with it - but watch out that you are not being led by a gust.

3. The importance of belonging (the centrality of relationships)

  • People matter: pastoral work matters. See crisis moments as moments when people can grow
  • Development of community: via task orientated groups and fellowship groups (e.g. home groups; lunch and chat; tea and chat; choirs; bell ringers, youth group, welcomers/sides person/steward team, Sunday school team, holiday club, toddler group, events for children, St Mary's wives). Developing those communities so that, whatever the task, Jesus Christ becomes the rock on whom they stand.
  • Development of identity in relationship: We need to begin with how people see themselves. How do they identify themselves and others? As newcomers to Bury or not; as people who have children and at what stage their children are at; as members of St Mary's or St Peter's. Begin with those identities - but, through prayer and teaching, encourage the development of our new identity in Christ. Offer opportunities for people to think outside their own boxes (eg.  occasional parish services, parish retreat or weekend.
  • Key of encouraging people to work together: choirs singing together, holiday club, LIFE exhibition
  • Community based evangelism: our experience with Passion for Life (a proclamation based mission) and our own CL mission (a community based mission). Most effective P4L events were not the evenings with a preacher but a sporting quiz evening with speaker. For our own CL mission, we used existing groups: eg. choir, lunch and chat to put on an event and also have a speaker. The most effective tool in helping introduce people to Jesus have been the Alpha or Christianity Explored courses.

4. Let God be God

  • Don't worry if we can't be/do all things. Focus on one or two things that we do well (eg. teaching, music, youth work, work with older people.)
  • Don't worry if we don't have all people at all the events all the time - creche/children/teenagers/young families/singles/mature families/ elderly. Be faithful, do what we can, and take steps of faith. Remember there are other churches who will reach the people who our church cannot. 
  • Don't despair. Pray and wait. We believe in a Lord who was crucified. It looked as if he had been defeated and it was all over. But it wasn't. 3 days later he rose from the dead.

Let God be sovereign. He can look after his Church.

The centrality of prayer and worship (the Russian example).
The call is to be prayerful and faithful. God grows His Church in His way.


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